#BlogTour- Jesper Stein- Die For Me

A depraved stalker. An unsolved murder. A cop who will stop at nothing to catch the killer. A brutal stalker is preying on women in Copenhagen. DI Axel Steen begins an obsessive manhunt that sends him spiralling out of control.  The investigation is fraught with heart-stopping near misses, dark mysteries, and a final revelation with devastating consequences. 

I was fortunate enough to take part in the blog tour marking the release of the first Axel Steen thriller Unrest which proved an exhilarating and thought provoking series opener. In common with the first book, Jesper Stein has no reticence into plunging his reader into a nightmarish scenario, with a particularly vicious and sadistic individual stalking the streets of Copenhagen…

On the basis of the first two books, it comes as no surprise that they have been optioned for television by the producers of The Bridge, and if they find the right actor to bring the right level of tortured maverick detective, well, it will be an absolute must see! What Stein achieves so beautifully is manipulating the old cliché of crime fiction, that of the maverick cop with mental and physical weaknesses, estranged from personal relationships, lives for the job and so on, by making his protagonist Axel Steen utterly mesmerising. He’s strong-willed and tenacious, somewhat foolhardy at times with his physical wellbeing, both by his own actions and by putting himself in the path of danger without a moment’s hesitation, but what I really like about his character is the absolute certainty and steadfastness he brings to every action he takes in his professional life.  His doggedness of purpose and the absolute empathy he has with both the murder victim, and the women who have been subjected to the most violent and degrading attacks, sets him apart admirably from his colleagues, and more importantly instils a faith in the women that their attacker will be caught and punished. To balance it out nicely, his personal life is not so clear-cut and leads to times of procrastination, doubt, and complete tactlessness but hey, he’s only human, but there is also an insidious presence in his day job who would probably tick off even the most mild mannered individual, to add to his troubles. Steen carries within him a mercurial mix of hot-headedness, empathy, compulsiveness, and sheer bloody-mindedness that makes him unpredictable, but also fascinating. A complicated man to be sure, but a great character…

Dealing with such an emotive and troubling subject as violence against women and rape, I think there is a danger of readers becoming desensitised slightly to the effect of these crimes, and the fear, shame and anger that women live with afterwards. I found this central theme in the book was handled in a particularly sensitive and balanced way, that whilst not shying away from the more visceral physical details of what these women have been subjected to, there is a real sense of understanding throughout of how this impacts on both their lives, and physical and mental wellbeing post-trauma. It felt to me that Stein had either researched this extremely thoroughly, but more evidently had spoken to women who had experienced this extreme violence, and what it had meant to live with the memory and affect of this crime. I may be wrong, but the book felt that it had a deeper connection to, and empathy with, victims of violence, rather than some of the more lazy depictions I have read. Equally, Stein succeeds admirably in steering clear of the mawkish, having a cool and clearheaded approach to the specifics of the crimes, a sense of sympathy to the victims, but wholly adhering to the natural aspect of the Scandinavian crime fiction tradition, where character and plot are so completely bound up with one another.

As well as focussing on the emotional and physical effects of the crimes perpetrated, there was also a dizzying amount of detail regarding the forensic investigation, written in a very natural and engaging way, and not just clumsily shoehorned into the narrative. Admittedly, those of us who practically inhale crime fiction would be aware of some aspects of forensic detection, but I learnt some really interesting stuff along the way, in terms of forensic investigation, reading a crime scene, and the intrinsic correlation of science with intuitive investigation in approaching cold cases. In conjunction with the extremely unpredictable Axel Steen and  the slow burning tension of a complex and twisting investigation, I thought this was a great follow-up in the series. With the usual precision and sheer readability of a translation by Charlotte Barslund, Die For Me is to be recommended. Excellent.

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(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

Raven’s Yearly Round Up 2019 and Top 10 Books

And so another year has drawn to a close and what a very strange and perplexing year it’s been all round. I won’t dwell on the dispiriting nature of the political events and the looming hardships we will all encounter, and instead turn my thoughts to the nicer things in life. Books. Just the books…

It’s been a year of real contrasts in my reading with just over 100 books read, which is a much lower figure than normal for me. For at least a couple of months I was trapped in a cycle of did not finish books, and also was singularly unimpressed with many of those books hailed as ‘the thriller of the year’ and so on. I was also exceptionally lax in keeping to my ratio of reading and reviewing, partly due to the new responsibilities I have at work, and at a more basic level, can’t-be-arsedness, so for that I apologise. Will do much better this year! There are many good books that didn’t make the review stage, but if you follow me on GoodReads you can see my five star ratings there and hopefully discover some of them for yourselves, but some real highlights were Abir Mukherjee’s Death In The East, the Pushkin reissues of the brilliant and woefully underrated Margaret Millar, Ragnar Jonasson’s The Island, Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes From A German Building Site, Isabella Tree- Wilding, Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra series, Don Winslow’s The Border and many more…

I am reading again this year for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction, and have made good progress on this year’s contenders- there’s some real goodies and reviews will follow as we get nearer the shortlist stage in March. I have a general resolution for the new year of making sure I keep up with my reviewing, and also to keep mixing up my reading material as after eight years of pretty much solid crime reading, I need to keep my sanity intact and turn my gaze away from the dark side now and then! On that note I would like to offer a thank you to the many bloggers I follow on Twitter who have enriched my reading this year with their varied and excellent reviews of crime and non-crime books- you guys are the best 🙂 Thank you to all the authors and publishers for making life very much more enjoyable, and to all my followers and blog visitors- thanks for your support. More great books to explore in 2020 I’ll wager! 

Right, with no further ado let’s cut to the chase and those books that blew me off my feet this year. As is tradition, a little round-up of those most excellent books that didn’t quite make the Top Ten, but gave the chosen titles a damn close run for their money. So put your hands together for A. D. Flint- The Burning Hill , Eamonn Griffin- East of England , Kjell Ola Dahl- The Courier , David F. Ross- Welcome To The Heady Heights , William Shaw- Deadland , Will Carver- Nothing Important Happened Today and the very, very recently read M. W. Craven- Black Summer. I was delighted and enthralled by each and every one of your books- thank you. 

So now the TOP 10… Just click on the jackets for my full review. There is much to enjoy here!

10. James Delargy- 55

” I thought that 55 was an extremely cleverly plotted, well-paced, and consistently engaging thriller with some nifty tricks in the narrative, solid characterisation of the main players, and suffused with the claustrophobic heat and isolation of its Australian setting. A compelling debut. “

9. Doug Johnstone- Breakers

“As much as the book is brutally realistic, it is also tinged with sensitivity and compassion, with a strong message that a less than promising start in life is not necessarily proof of a moral deficiency, and that a good nature can overrule bad nurture. Despite the anger and tension so in evidence in these characters’ lives, I found this book tremendously life affirming, and as Tyler grows in stature and strength, he very much takes the reader with him.”

8. Orlando Ortega Medina- The Death of Baseball

This book is a glorious miasma of contradictions and conflicts, the need to love, the need for acceptance and recognition, fame, faith, abuse, identity and hope. I found it thought provoking and powerfully emotional, and I loved the way it immersed me so fully in these two lives with their unique voices. This book has such a strong message at its core, clearly illustrating how we are all the same in our desire to achieve contentment and an equilibrium in our lives, however we choose to live and with whomever we choose to love.”

7. Alan Parks- February’s Son 

No linked review for this one as I only finished this one a few days ago! I described the first book in the series, Bloody January as “feisty, fresh and wonderfully sordid, and a sublime blast of noir” and this was equally powerful taking us back to the mean streets of 1970’s Glasgow. As much as Parks’ protagonist Detective Harry McCoy is no angel, I was incredibly moved by the surprising turn his personal story took in this one, and the very compassionate tone of the book overall, whilst keeping up the pace with nefarious dirty dealings and bursts of violence.

6. M. P. Wright- A Sinner’s Prayer

“There are a more than a few unexpected twists in the narrative, and one demise of a character was followed by an audible gasp from me. On a bus. Full of people. In the course of Ellington’s investigation, outside of keeping up the necessary pace of the story, you are given space as a reader to think about and absorb some of the wider issues that Wright brings to the narrative, so it’s an incredibly satisfying blend of thriller and social and cultural observation.”

5. Trevor Mark Thomas- The Bothy 

“Described by yours truly on Twitter as akin to Magnus Mills on meth, The Bothy proved to be something quite special from the outset. Tapping into the rising reputation and visibility of working class writing in the UK of late, Thomas has, with a limited cast of characters, constructed a dark, and unsettling book, packed to the gills with atmosphere and an overhanging miasma of violence.

4. Parker Bilal- The Divinities

I was intrigued, shocked and genuinely curious about the issues that Bilal raises, once again demonstrating how so much more of ‘real life’ can be encapsulated and distilled in a crime novel than more traditional forms of fiction...This will probably be one of the few crime thrillers that I will re-read in later life (there’s no higher praise than that), but for now I would highly recommend this one, and am anticipating a similarly brilliant book two. No pressure.”

3. Sergio Olguin- The Fragility of Bodies

“A book shot through with painful truths and gritty realism, and with the ability to put its reader through a whole gamut of emotions with its pared down prose, perceptive exploration of the human compulsion to make connections, and larger themes of trust, exploitation and social injustice. This is a huge, important book hiding behind the deceptively simple label of an Argentine noir thriller, but has much to say about the nature of human relationships, and the power and exploitation of the few on the lives of the many…”

2. Ilaria Tuti- Flowers Over The Inferno 

“I think it’s fair to say that this book left a real impression in its wake on this reader, being not only a perfectly formed murder mystery, but also a book that is layered with a supreme awareness of the frailties and strengths of the human condition, through the investigators, the inhabitants of the village and the killer too. I found this a really intense and emotional reading experience, and felt utterly bound up in the lives of the characters, and the travails they experience.”

RAVEN’S TOP READ OF 2019

NICOLAS OBREGON- UNKNOWN MALE

 

Yes, I had to wait until December to read my top book of the year, but more than worth the wait…

“What Obregon gives us is a real smorgasbord of the good, the bad and ugly where the lines of morality and decent behaviour become fractured, and at times are difficult to discern. People acting in surprising and unpredictable ways give a real emotional heft to this book, and also work beautifully in concealing the real villains of the piece, with revenge being another incredibly strong motif.” This book encapsulated all my favourite aspects of crime thriller writing from character, to location, to plot and was an absolute joy, as the whole trilogy has been. 

 

 

Raven’s Top Read 2019 – Nicolas Obregon- Unknown Male

He is a completely unremarkable man. Who wears the same black suit every day. Boards the same train to work each morning. And arrives home to his wife and son each night. But he has a secret.  He likes to kill people. With just weeks to go before the Olympics and the world’s eyes firmly fixed on Tokyo the body of young British student, Skye Mackintosh, is discovered in a love hotel. Tokyo’s Homicide Department are desperate for a lead. As a last resort they enlist the help of a brilliant former detective whose haunted personal life has forced him into exile thousands of miles away. But it isn’t long before Kosuke Iwata discovers the darkness in the neon drenched streets as Skye, like so many others, had her own secrets. Lies and murder haunt a city where old ghosts and new whisper from its darkest of corners and the truth is always just out of sight..

So we come to the last instalment of Nicolas Obregon’s remarkable Tokyo trilogy featuring former detective Kosuke Iwata. Having previously reviewed both Blue Light Yokohama and Sins As Scarlet and quite frankly, raved about both, I approached Unknown Male with more than a sense of delicious anticipation. What I love about Obregon as a writer is the way he so consistently holds his reader in the palm of his hand and the sense of real storytelling that is so absolutely central to the narrative. I must admit that I find it hard to define what it is about his writing that enthrals me, but will try in my own ham-fisted way to do so…

Firstly I think Obregon’s obvious love affair with Tokyo is absolutely central to this book, and his fearlessness in portraying this city with very much a love/hate edge to his depiction of it: “As he walked, he inhaled a cologne of rubbish, exhaust, wet concrete. No city had more nameless streets or alleyways…To walk through her ways was to be inveigled in her web…She murmured from steam vents and snickered from overflowing gutters.” All through the book the intangible hold of the city both on the main characters, and the general populace is front and centre, with Obregon exposing the pulsing beat of a city where there is a real sense of sink or swim, poverty or success and a constant feel of movement in “this shingle beach of crossed purpose“. Obregon also emphasises how easily people become lost, in this teeming morass of people, whether slaves to a wage, slaves to people basest violent desires, and how people seek to navigate a society that slows for no man. Although our detective figure Iwata is a native to the city, Obregon also instils in him a feeling of having to get to grips with this mercurial city after time abroad, and the very particular problems that arise in having to almost start afresh in navigating its unique idiosyncrasies.

Iwata himself is also a complicated soul, imbued with a deep sense of morality pertaining to his professional standards and the way he conducts himself in relation to this particular investigation. However, back amongst his countrymen he does at times seem like a square peg in a round hole, as his methods and thought process put him at odds with his fellow investigators. He is an outsider, but in that mould proves to be extremely effective at approaching the case from a different angle, and intuitive thinking. The issue of morality is explored in many ways throughout the book both through Iwata who is also seeking some personal retribution, but also through the British female detective Anthea Lynch (who finds herself despatched to Tokyo after a serious blip in her own career) and individuals involved with Skye, the murder victim. Throw into the mix one of the most strangely motivated serial killers I have encountered for some time (the thermos flask-eugh) and what Obregon gives us is a real smorgasboard of the good, the bad and ugly where the lines of morality and decent behaviour become fractured, and at times difficult to discern. People acting in surprising and unpredictable ways give a real emotional heft to this book, and also work beautifully in concealing the real villains of the piece, with revenge being another incredibly strong motif resonating through the characters.

I think it goes without saying that Unknown Male has secured a place in my Top 5 of the year with its masterful depth of characterisation, use of location with Tokyo as a living and breathing entity so crucial to the lives and crimes unfolding within it, and the way that the book keeps you in its grasp from beginning to end. It is the close to a trilogy which left me tinged with sadness as I loved these books so much, but also heartens me that hopefully more readers will discover these for themselves. Absolutely outstanding.

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(I bought this copy of Unknown Male published by Michael Joseph)

 

 

 

 

Will Carver- Nothing Important Happened Today #BlogTour

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today. That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of the People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another. Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe; it becomes a movement. A social media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.
How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they are a member?

Another day, another challenge, and another book that will prove exceedingly hard to review, being quite unlike anything else I have read this year. Here goes…

This is a beautifully structured book, moving the reader effortlessly between multiple characters and viewpoints drawing us deeper and deeper into the disturbing world of recruitment into cult, and the destructive consequences that arise. A multitude of victims pass through our consciousness as the book progresses from sharply contrasting walks of life, and as Carver interrogates the minutiae of each of these lives, it brings the reader to a heightened understanding of how a conceivably better exit plan is within their grasp. The book is tinged with a sadness and sense of hopelessness for many of the characters, but equally with some who ironically seem enlivened by the prospect of being involved in something they deem powerful and important, ending their lives on their own terms with seemingly little coercion. Carver cleverly conceals the source of this rapidly spreading cult, providing a knotty mystery for his readers as to how this small seed of destruction gathers such a momentum so quickly and so widely, and just what is the real motivation of its founder or founders? I loved the way that Carver focusses on a series of ordinary lives that will resonate with many readers, and the individual stories of dissatisfaction, underachievement, frustration, debt or emotional barrenness that overtakes their will to live with such devastating consequences.

Fuelled by Carver’s own authorial intervention on the disconnectedness of life in the modern age, dependent on the virtual world  of clicks and likes as our one-to-one human interaction is slowly being chipped away at, and the appeal of being part of something like a cult to renew the feeling of connectivity, the book provides a scathing indictment of the world we live in. Carver pummels our consciousness with his observations on life, poverty, cults, social media, even serial killers’ body counts (and how some of them got it so, so, wrong in their preferred killing methods!) the book progresses with a rhythm and cadence incredibly similar in feel to parts of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, with it’s equally dispiriting observations on life and conformity. We all recognise the dark nature of humanity, the undermining of human connection by a world we inhabit through screens, the division and inequality of society which undoes those less able to cope with its challenges, but is the lure of the cult really the best way to overcome these challenges? Yes, this book takes the reader to some very dark places, but as Carver underscores the book with his usual dark, mordant wit this makes the book an overall less gloomy affair than this review has probably led you to believe. An intelligent, morally questioning and challenging read, that raises issues of certainty and doubt in equal measure, and is all very scarily plausible indeed…

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Missed a blog tour post? Catch up here:

G. D. Abson- Black Wolf

A young woman is found dead on the outskirts of St Petersburg on a freezing January morning. There are no signs of injury, and heavy snowfall has buried all trace of an attacker. Captain Natalya Ivanova’s investigation quickly links the victim to the Decembrists, an anti-Putin dissident group whose acts of civil disobedience have caught the eye of the authorities. And Natalya soon realises she is not the only one interested in the case, as government security services wade in and shut down her investigation almost before it has begun. Before long, state media are spreading smear stories about the dead woman, and Natalya suspects the authorities have something to hide. When a second rebel activist goes missing, she is forced to go undercover to expose the truth. But the stakes are higher than ever before. Not only could her pursuit of the murderer destroy her career, but her family ties to one of the victims threaten to tear her personal life apart…

Closing my review for the first book in the series, Motherland with my enjoyment of discovering what could potentially be a great series with a credible female protagonist, I did have a heightened sense of anticipation for Black Wolf, and sure enough I was not to be disappointed…

What I have particularly enjoyed about this series so far is the real sense of how little Russia has moved forward in terms of the overarching eye of the state on the lives of its inhabitants, and the steely grasp of power encapsulated by seemingly untouchable Putin. As the story focusses on a group of anti-government activists (christened The Decembrists based on the anarchist art collective Voina) and the upcoming elections, there is plenty of room for Abson to develop the theme of societal and political control of the few over the lives of the many. Equally, this theme of control and surveillance dogs our intrepid investigator, Natalya Ivanova throughout, exerting its pressure on both her personal and professional life. The book also puts into sharp focus the financial dirty dealings of those in power, revealing a deep-seated melee of corruption and greed in the upper tiers of society. Little wonder that this investigation is to prove extremely troublesome from start to finish…

I really like the character of Ivanova who is a completely ‘everywoman’ kind of character, with the contrasting dilemmas of her personal life and home and navigating the patriarchal strictures of her work. At times she seems scatty and disorganised, but with a steel fist in a silk glove, she consistently proves her doggedness and determination to flout the rules of her expected professional behaviour, which aids the relatives of the victims, but puts her under the microscope of her superior, and the allied security services who seek to undermine her. There is still a whiff of corruption hanging over her partner Misha and this is what they seek to expose, putting Ivanova in a very fragile position indeed. As she delves deeper in the activities of anti-government group, this puts her into increasing danger, but her empathy and seeking of justice for both victims and their loved ones has a nobility and sympathy that only strengthens our general respect for her. She puts me very much in mind of the crusading female detective protagonists so prevalent in Scandinavian crime fiction, and I love the conflicting loyalties, but also the ardent sense of justice that Abson imbues her character with.

Quite simply, if Abson continues this series with this depth of characterisation, sense of time and place, and such a pace and energy to his plot development and narrative, I for one will be exceedingly happy. It has been very pleasurable to discover a female protagonist in a very male dominated sub genre of crime with Russia as a backdrop, and producing such a vivid and incisive exploration of life within this society.  I will await the next book with an increasing sense of impatience… Recommended.

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

A frankly disappointing October round up…

I’m not going to dwell too long on this (there’s nothing worse than a moany blogger) but think I am probably not alone in the blogging community in hitting a bit of a dry spell in my reading. This pretty much sums up October for me, which proved to be an increasingly frustrating month, where I just struggled to settle on a book. So my DNF rate this month was into double figures, which was rubbish, and also read an additional four books that I really didn’t like. At all.

Poop.

However, in much better news I have cut a bit of a swathe through my Petrona Scandinavian Crime Fiction Award reading list so will be posting some reviews of these over the coming weeks, and just to give you a heads up that Abir Mukherjee’s new book Death In The East is pretty damn good- will post a review on publication date in November. Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed A. D. Flint’s Brazillian set thriller, The Burning Hill which I did post a review for this month, and have also belatedly started reading Vaseem Khan’s excellent Inspector Chopra series- am thoroughly enjoying the first one. Have also been introduced to a new author Rod Humphris’ Simon Ellice series courtesy of Rat’s Tales independent publishers, and am halfway through the trilogy so will review all 3 books together. There’s been a healthy amount/ never too much book buying of late, so think there should be some goodies there, and hopefully I may be a bit more of an actual blogger this month.

Huzzah!

Here’s to November and some proper good reading. Have a good month everyone!

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C. M. Ewan- A Window Breaks- Extract

Today marks the publication of A Window Breaks by bestselling crime author Chris Ewan ( Safe House, Dark Tides, The Good Thief’s Guide To…) with a new nom de plume. Following the growing trend for British and Irish authors to diversify into tense Hollywood style action thrillers, Ewan has produced a genuinely nerve shredding tale full of breathless action that romps along at a fast clip like an increasingly violent adult version of Home Alone. You’ll be on the edge of your seat. Guaranteed. 

You are asleep. A noise wakes you.
You stir, unsure why, and turn to your wife.
Then you hear it.
Glass. Crunching underfoot.
Your worst fears are about to be realized.
Someone is inside your home.
Your choices are limited.
You can run. Or stay and fight.
What would you do?

Extract

CHAPTER 12

‘Tom?’

Rachel shook my shoulder.

‘Tom, wake up.’ She  whispered, close to my  ear: ‘I think I heard something.’

I groaned and mashed my face into my pillow.

‘Tom, it sounded like a window breaking. I think there’s someone downstairs.’

I groaned some more. Rachel is a light sleeper. She hears bumps in the night. And I’m the one she’s turned to – again and again – to get out of bed and creep downstairs to investigate.

‘Tom?’

It was warm and fuggy under the covers – my legs were tangled in Rachel’s legs – and I could so easily drift off again. I could hear the hitch of fear in  Rachel’s voice but it wasn’t quite enough to tug me back to full consciousness.

Then a vague distant noise made me stir. It could have been the sound of glass crunching underfoot.

My heart clenched as Rachel yanked on my upper arm. ‘Tom? Wake up. Please.’

Eyes open, listening hard.

The room was black. The only light was the faint glow of my wristwatch. It was just after 2 a.m.

Another slight crunching sound.

Oh God.

I blinked and stared into the pulsing darkness as a great sucking fear invaded my  chest. In my mind I was watching a kind of home movie rendered in fuzzy greyscale. I was picturing a long, uninterrupted tracking shot – the visual equivalent of the auditory hunt I was carrying out with my ears. The camera in my mind’s eye went snuffling across the carpet and out of the bedroom door. It sped low along the unlit hallway, sweeping left and right in small, tight arcs, like a bloodhound following a scent. When the camera reached the mezzanine it pitched up and then down over the polished steel banister rail overlooking the vaulted space below. It dropped on a wire, spinning and sweeping, sniffing out the source of the gritty crunching I had heard.

‘I’m scared, Tom.’ ‘Shh.’

Was that the whisper of the sliding glass door on to the deck being pulled back? And now the dull thud of the door hitting the rubber buffer?

Rachel clutched my arm again. I didn’t have any clothes on under the covers. And all right, it shouldn’t have been a big deal right then, but it’s amazing how being naked can make you feel more vulnerable.

Silence. I waited.

My heart jackhammered in my chest, pushing me up off the mattress. Rachel’s fingers dug into my flesh.

The silence persisted, but this was no natural hush. It felt loaded. Felt forced. Like somebody was holding their breath downstairs.

I was listening so intensely it was as if I could hear the throbbing of the very air itself – the sound of millions of tiny molecules rubbing and vibrating against one another.   It was a sound like no other. The sound of pure fear in the middle of the night.

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